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THEY ARE KNOWN AS THE UNFORGETTABLES, AND NO NICKNAME could be more perfect. Because not a single Wildcats fan from Fulton to Pike County above the age of 20 has forgotten what that team accomplished. They haven't forgotten the names: Farmer, Woods, Feldhaus and Pelphrey. They haven't forgotten the games. And they will never forget how it all ended. � Fifteen years after their final game in Wildcat blue, the Unforgettables are all grown up. Richie Farmer, whose sweet stroke and bushy mustache made him a high school basketball legend, is Kentucky's Commissioner of Agriculture. Sean Woods, that quick point guard who could always get to the rim? He's an assistant coach at TCU. Deron Feldhaus, the tough forward who always hustled for loose balls, runs a golf course in Maysville. And John Pelphrey, the skinny redheaded locker room leader, is the coach at Arkansas. That'll make games against the Razorbacks even more interesting.
These four players are impossible to forget not because they broke scoring records or won championships. They are impressed on the memory because they persevered through one of the most difficult stretches in Kentucky basketball history. In May 1989 the NCAA slapped the program with major sanctions—among them, three years' probation and a ban from postseason play for two seasons. The scandal claimed coach Eddie Sutton and athletic director Cliff Hagan, and the team lost five players who were either ruled ineligible or transferred to get off the sinking ship.
But Farmer, Woods, Feldhaus and Pelphrey all stayed. And—under the direction of new coach Rick Pitino, who was hired on June 1 of that year—this foursome of overachievers breathed life back into the program. In Pitino's first season, 1989-90, they helped the Wildcats to a 14-14 record as sophomores and then to a 22-6 mark as juniors. By that time, with the cloud lifted, they had been joined by Jamal Mashburn, a 6'8" forward from New York City who would become an All-America in '93. And by the end of their senior season they had won the SEC East and tournament championships, and were just 2.1 seconds away from the Final Four.
Two weeks after the March 1992 loss to the Blue Devils, athletic director C.M. Newton told a crowd of thousands at Rupp Arena that the school was retiring the jerseys of Farmer, Woods, Feldhaus and Pelphrey. "We retire these jerseys in honor of four young men who have been the heart and soul of our basketball program the past three years," he said. "Three years ago our basketball program was devastated. Today it is back on top, due largely to four young men who persevered, who weathered the hard times and brought the good times back to Kentucky basketball. Their contributions cannot be measured in statistics or record books."
A short time after the ceremony, the four seniors were dubbed the Unforgettables, and the name stuck. Kentucky fans will never forget them, but let's turn the mirror for a moment and ask, What was unforgettable for the Unforgettables?
THE MOST POPULAR OF THE UNFORGETTABLES is arguably Farmer, who is running for reelection as agriculture commissioner and won 85.3% of the vote in the primary held in May. He began winning statewide fame when he was a prolific scoring guard from the sleepy eastern Kentucky coal town of Manchester. What is most unforgettable to Farmer was the way he arrived at Kentucky. The six-foot guard led the Clay County Tigers to the state championship in '87 and earned all-state honors for the second straight year, but it was LSU, not Kentucky, that came calling.
"I've got a pretty good guy named Shaquille O'Neal," LSU coach Dale Brown told Farmer during his sales pitch. "I've got another good big guy named Stanley Roberts. And I feel like I'm recruiting the two best guards in the country. One of them, Chris Jackson, is already on board. And you're the other guy I want."
Farmer thanked Brown for the opportunity but told him he had always dreamed of playing for the Wildcats. "And if they offer me a scholarship," he said, "that's where I'm going." The offer finally did come from UK, in the spring of Farmer's senior year.
Today Farmer is married with three children and has a picture of the Unforgettables hanging on a wall in his office in Frankfort. He's also a Cats basketball season-ticket holder. "I grew up a fan," he says. "I was able to live a dream and play, and now I'm a fan again. I still live blue."
WOODS WAS THE most social Cat, the most likely of the four to make a friend when there was no familiar face around, and he still is. "He just has a gift of developing relationships with people," Pelphrey says, and that makes Woods a perfect fit for his current job as an assistant coach at TCU, where he focuses on recruiting.